Simplifying the digital learning environment with a whole-of-school tool


How many tools does your school have in its digital toolbox? If you run out of fingers before you stop counting, it’s probably the outcome of an ad hoc approach to introducing new learning technologies over the years.

The problem with that approach? It leads to a disjointed and confusing user experience, with students, teachers and administrators struggling as they shift between tools. This affects uptake and usage, undermining the value of the investment and dragging down the outcomes. That’s cause for concern, especially when so many user groups are affected.

Aging learning management systems can also undermine the original good intentions as users struggle with dated interfaces.

Consequently, leading schools are now moving to the latest all-in-one solutions, but that can raise new questions. To understand why, and what to look for when planning a move to an all-in-one learning system, it helps to understand how we got here.

Learning the hard way about software proliferation.
The digital education revolution has brought more and more tools into schools, often introduced by well-meaning people at different times to solve different problems or provide new capabilities. These were all justifiable decisions, but taken without an understanding of the bigger picture because, for a long time, there was no bigger picture, there was no holistic approach to learning technologies.

Today, most schools have a patchwork of different software, some selected for specific subjects, others to do particular tasks, or achieve specific objectives, like improved collaboration.

With so many pieces of software in the school environment, problems arise: each provides a different user experience, and may require learning a new set of interfaces and commands. This can make life difficult for:

  • Students and teachers transitioning from one subject to another during the day.
  • Staff moving between roles.
  • Students moving on to elective subjects.
  • Teachers communicating with their students.
  • Office staff dealing with many areas of the school’s operations during a single day.

In all these cases, the proliferation of tools adds up to a high-friction environment that can reduce usage and lead to unfavourable outcomes.

The solution, clearly, is to combine as many of these useful functions as possible in one piece of software – a widely adopted whole-of-school learning platform.

One tool to connect them all.
Today, many schools are developing an interest in these learning platforms: software-as-a-service solutions that aim to provide a single platform for many tasks across multiple users, from parents and students to teachers, administrators and leaders.

Even here, unintended consequences may arise. Moving to a learning platform is a good idea. But if a platform is to be embraced by such a diverse user group, it must be easy to use.

That’s where it gets complicated, because users might range from the technology-literate IT team through to head teachers, school leaders and office admin staff.

Most importantly, it includes students and their parents. When you consider the diversity of capabilities within your community, what is user-friendly to one group may be more trouble than it’s worth to others.

Everyone expects a world-class user experience nowadays.
The idea of a single platform for all teaching resources and for all types of communication is appealing. It aligns with where many schools are headed with their learning strategies and their efforts to encourage deeper engagement between students, teachers and one another, and to bring parents seamlessly into the loop.

Like anything though, if the platform is not simple and easy to use, you’ll experience drop-off. And the more user interface issues there are, the more people you’ll lose.

Beyond a certain point, that undermines the effectiveness of the entire program.

So, what’s the solution?

Compare your potential portal to world-best user interfaces and see how it looks.
The success of many tech companies is driven by the simplicity of their user experience. Think of the impact of the first iPhone, with its radically intuitive and easy to use interface, or the Spartan simplicity of Google’s search interface.

Removing complexity and encouraging intuitive use make the difference between a platform that will be adopted enthusiastically and one that leaves some people behind.

User interface design is one of the most critical skills in developing a learning platform that will encourage use and maximise uptake.

Ease of use is everything.
Leading schools in Australia have been on this journey for some years, and some have reached conclusions and implemented a platform with highly satisfactory results.

For instance, Firbank Grammar in Melbourne reached the point where well-meaning investments by teachers in multiple tools resulted in a disjointed and fragmented system that caused frustration for students.

In Toowoomba, St. Ursula’s College found itself in a similar situation, with students dealing with an inconsistent learning experience and even missing out on important information.

In both cases, the transition to a whole-of-school learning platform was carefully thought through, with a particular focus on ease of use as a criterion for choosing the final platform.

Plus, one tool over many is a cost saver as well.

Cost savings can also flow from the transition to a single tool, as demands on staff supporting the legacy software fall away.

Everything needs to be easy.
Selecting the platform is one task. Rolling it out is another. Naturally, a major implementation like this comes with its share of headaches and worries. That said, both Billanook and St. Ursula’s found that their solution – the Firefly all-in-one, whole-of-school system, was quickly and enthusiastically adopted by students.

Another Australian Firefly school, Billanook College in Melbourne, reports that Firefly adoption was extremely fast, with over 650 students accessing the site before the official launch and actively exploring and creating content – even though this was during the summer holidays.

Billanook also took care to take parents on the journey, cleverly encouraging them to do some training by giving everyone who completed it the opportunity to win a case of wine! In fact, over 40% of parents registered and logged in on launch day.

Since then, almost all their parents have engaged and interacted with Firefly, using it to check on their child’s assessments and homework and to catch up on school news.

Planning for the future.
A whole-of-school learning platform is a strategic investment. Ideally, it becomes the foundation of the school’s long-term plans, and once rolled-out it becomes invisible, enabling everyone – staff, teachers and parents to focus on what really matters: their students’ learning experiences.

As schools and users make the transition to a platform, good things flow as less time is spent dealing with the daily irritants of incompatible and inconsistent tools and more time is spent on what matters, accessing resources, staying up to date, collaborating with other students and with their teachers, and keeping their parents in the loop and engaged.

For school leaders, selecting a whole-of-school learning platform is a significant decision. Carried out successfully, it can lead to dramatic benefits for the whole school community.

If you’re interested in the transition from multiple learning tools or your current clunky LMS to a single whole-of-school platform, you might like to see a demonstration of Firefly, the leading-edge product mentioned above. To organise an obligation-free, face-to-face demonstration of Firefly’s capabilities matched to your school’s needs – from homework setting and parent engagement to rubric use and resource sharing, please click here.

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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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